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The Prelim year is the first year of a Four Year Degree, a course designed to give access to the detailed study of the Ancient World to students who have not studied Latin or Ancient Greek to A level (occasionally we have students who have Ancient Greek at A level standard or equivalent but have not studied Latin). This first year has two main aims: (i) to give you a secure grounding in the Latin language so that you can understand and enjoy original Latin texts; (ii) to start you thinking about other areas of the ancient world and the tools and skills that a Classicist needs to investigate them. This includes a grounding in Ancient Greek. The core of the language teaching is a programme of reading and grammar classes taken by our language specialists.


Language classes

As new first years studying the Four Year Degree, you will have attended a Latin Summer School. This is language-based and designed to introduce you to the basic structure of the Latin language and to begin or enhance your experience of it. The term-time course takes you on from there. One of our most important aims over the course of this year is to start you on the road to becoming a confident reader of original Latin, so that you can read the works of Roman authors with accuracy and pleasure. A substantial part of the first year course is built around the reading of a group of Latin texts, and you will begin with your first author around the middle of the first term. Starting in Lent term, a foundation in Ancient Greek is added to this, starting you on the road to becoming a confident reader of original Greek. The language classes you attend are designed to teach and support your language learning in a variety of ways. On one level, they will be teaching you the grammar and syntax basic to the functioning of the Latin and Greek languages; on another level, introducing you to the support materials and tools which students need to develop their understanding of Latin and Greek (for instance, dictionaries, commentaries, IT learning resources and others), and at a third level, they will be helping you to read the texts in a structured way.

Learning to read an ancient language is a complex and challenging business and is at the core of much of what we do as Classicists. There is a huge difference between reading the works of Roman and Greek authors in translation and reading them in the original language, where the pattern and structure of the language itself provide a vital insight into the thought processes and cultural assumptions of the writers and society which produced them. This centrality to the task of the Classicist – which is to find out as much about the Ancient World as possible and to interrogate and respond to what has been discovered – is why language learning is at the heart of the first part of our degree, whether you are approaching it as a Four-Year or as a Three-Year candidate. Four-Year Degree students take Latin first to enable them to concentrate on one language and culture before taking on the next.


The Lectures

In the Michaelmas term, Four Year Degree students are expected to attend the prelim-specific Elements of Latin Literature (weeks 1-4) lectures, as well as the IA lectures in two of the following non-literature groups: philosophy (B Caucus), history (C Caucus), art and archaeology (D Caucus), linguistics (E Caucus). Each student, in dialogue with their Director of Studies, decides which two groups of lectures (B, C, D, or E) to follow. In the Lent term, Four Year Degree students are expected to attend the IA lectures in Latin Literature (Order and Disorder in Latin Literature), as well as the lectures from the same two non-literature groups (B, C, D, or E) that were chosen in the Michaelmas Term. In the Easter term, Four Year Degree students are expected to attend the lectures from the same two non-literature groups (B, C, D, or E) that were chosen in the Michaelmas Term. Some caucuses do not run lectures in the Easter term.


Teaching and learning

A central element of the teaching and learning experience of Cambridge is the dovetailing of Faculty teaching with College provision: and this is no different for the Four Year Degree. You will have supervisions organised by your Director of Studies in your College. Some of these supervisions will be designed to support and extend the work you are doing in your Faculty language classes. Others will be essay supervisions. Using material gained from lectures and from guided reading you will be working to write essays about different aspects of Roman and Greek cultures, piecing together evidence and developing arguments about the material and ways to think about them.

The dovetailing between Faculty and College teaching may – and should – take on a number of different forms during the first year of the Four Year Degree, and indeed, during your time in Cambridge. Sometimes the connection between them will seem almost seamless: at other times, there may be a noticeable difference of approach. For instance, a supervisor may see a particular problem differently from the way a lecturer has presented it and want to offer a very different argument for the way to apply the evidence. This has a number of benefits: it means that you get to have different points of view put before you and discussed; it can mean that you feel more confident about expressing your view – if there is no strict 'orthodoxy' then why shouldn't your views on a question be just as valid as other people’s?; it can mean that the teaching and learning, in both content and style, can be tailored to individual needs. Your College Director of Studies is there to keep an overall view of what teaching you are receiving and to be ready to deal with problems if they arise. Four Year Degree candidates also have the Four Year Degree Course Co-Ordinator (Dr C Weiss) in the Faculty to ask for advice.

The teaching for the Four Year Degree falls broadly into five kinds:

  1. Faculty Latin and Greek language and reading classes
  2. Faculty lectures on Latin and Greek literature and the Target Texts
  3. Faculty lectures on two non-literary topics
  4. College language supervisions
  5. College essay supervisions


The Preliminary Examination

Four-Year Degree candidates sit the Preliminary Examination during their first year. This exam consists of four papers.

Papers 1 (Latin Texts) and 2 (Latin and Greek Language) are in the form of traditional examination papers and take place in the second half of Easter Full Term. Papers 1 and 2 are language exams and are intended to reflect and test the level of reading reached by this time in the course. Like all language papers in the Classics Faculty, these papers are marked positively: i.e. you will gain credit for what you do well, rather than just losing marks for what you do less well. The different passages will aim to test a variety of skills, so that everyone has the best chance to show what they can do.  Paper 1 is a 3-hour exam. It consists of Section A (1 hour): 2 short translations of passages from the set texts; Section B (1 hour): 1 critical discussion from a choice of 2 passages from set texts; Section C (1 hour): 1 passage from set texts for linguistic structures questions. Paper 2 is a 3-hour exam. It consists of Section A: 2 unseen translations (45 minutes each); Section B: five English-into-Latin sentences (45 minutes); Section C: Greek exercise(s) appropriate to the level up to Reading Greek 7 (45 minutes).

Papers 3 (Classical Topics) is also in the form of traditional examination papers and it also takes place in the second half of Easter Full Term. Paper 3 is focused on the non-literary topics studied by the student throughout the year. Paper 3 is 2-hour exam. Candidates will be expected to write two essays, one on each of the non-literary topics studied. We recommend that one hour be spent on each essay.

* Those reading the 4-year course are to go to lectures in two of the non-literary topics in their first year and to lectures in at least one further topic in their second year. In their second year undergraduates reading the 4-year course will submit two essays on non-literary topics, at least one of which should be on a topic on which they had not been examined in Prelim.

Paper 4 (Literary Essay) consists of one coursework essay on a literary topic related to Ovid Met. 3. The topic should be chosen from a list of suggested titles to be issued at division of LT. The essay is to be submitted no later than the Monday of 5th week of Easter Term. Essay titles may expect knowledge of texts set to be read in translation as well as Ovid Met. 3. To ensure timely composition, candidates will be expected to submit a full draft to their supervisor (copied to their Director of Studies) not later than the Friday of week 3 in Easter Term. There is a word limit of 2,500 words for this essay, including notes, but excluding bibliography. For this essay, students should receive a maximum of 90 minutes of supervision: 30 minutes prior to drafting and 60 minutes on first draft. Only one draft is to be read by supervisor. Qualities which will be looked for will be: a good knowledge of the text and an ability to comment on its language and style where appropriate; knowledge of the most relevant secondary material and the capacity to offer some level of close reading and criticism of this material; the ability to construct a coherent argument.

Students are required to sign a declaration that the coursework essay is their own work, and does not contain material already used to any substantial extent for a comparable purpose. Essays must be word processed (1.5 spacing) unless permission has been obtained from the Faculty Board to present them in handwritten form. The style of presentation, quotation and reference to books, articles and ancient authorities should be consistent and comply with the standards required by a major journal (such as Classical Quarterly).

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